Know Your Heroes: Chantal Wiggins

Name: Chantal Wiggins
Title: Transplant Coordinator -Ajmera Transplant Centre Living Donor Liver Program
Number of years working in health care: 17
I was born and raised in: Ottawa

I decided to get into health care because I come from a family with many generations of nurses. It must be in my genes! From a young age, I always said, “I want to be a nurse!” I was very interested in newborns as a child, loved taking care of infants and babysitting all the local children in my neighborhood. My first RN (Registered Nurse) role was on the Float team at Kingston General in OBGYN, neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric medicine. I feel I am able to connect and empathize with humans when they are in distress or in need.

My role as a Transplant Coordinator for the Living Donor Liver Program is exhilarating and fast paced. The living liver donor program is the largest liver transplant program in Canada. For some context, a “live liver donor” is someone who donates a piece of their liver to a recipient in need. I get to work with an amazing team of surgeons, physicians and administrators. I help coordinate a liver donor’s journey from the moment they apply until post-operative and beyond. Being a live donor is no easy feat; it is emotionally and physically difficult and I am there to coach, guide, educate and organize their care. I am their shoulder to cry on and the person they call for all of their important questions. I also help manage the operations of the program along with the medical and surgical directors so that we can have as many live donors as possible successfully go to surgery.

COVID-19 meant we had to pivot quickly to a virtual model of care and ensure we got our donors to surgery safely. It has affected my donors as it has increased their fears of being in hospital during a pandemic and caused them great stress and worry that they would not be able to save their loved one in a timely manner. Thankfully, we have continued to have donors go to surgery throughout the whole pandemic. COVID-19 has affected my workplace and my team, too. We had to come into uncharted territory when many others were told to stay home. We have had to stay up-to-date on the most recent research to provide the most accurate information to our patients. I am so thankful for my team who were always positive, resilient, and supportive during some very dark days.

COVID- 19 has affected my direct family, too. I have seen people I love suffer from this virus and as a nurse, nothing is harder to watch your family members be affected. On the other hand, COVID-19 has given me more time with my children and husband that I will always treasure. I am fortunate to live in Canada, work in health care, and have the means to take care of my family. My workplace always kept me safe, but I know this is not everyone’s story. It is difficult to know many others are suffering.

The thing I love most about my job is being intertwined into these amazing donors’ stories. I am a small piece of thread in the patchwork of the quilt of their donor journey. I get to work with people during a very vulnerable and intimate part of their life. Even though I do this daily, when I think deeply about it, is a true honor to walk beside a donor in their journey. Each donor has a different story, reason for donation, and impact on me.

The most incredible thing I have seen at work is the selfless act of donation, which really reminds me of the true meaning of altruism. When I feel that society can become dark, petty, or downright mean I look at the people I work with daily. The surgeons, nurses, and administrators on my team show up every day and our donors are our number one priority. I have seen people anonymously donate to children and adults who they do not know or will never meet. I have seen a newlywed donate and spend their honeymoon in UHN. I have seen donors put their life on hold for six months to be able to donate. People donating to old colleagues, previous teachers and their community members. I love hearing the beautiful stories of spouses who donate, and parents selflessly donating to save their children.

I’m inspired by my children. They keep me in check, they call me out and they push me to work and play hard.

My personal heroes are all the essential workers during the pandemic. They are true heroes and have sacrificed so much that sometimes goes unnoticed.

My biggest worry is, when you work in Transplant, you see how life can change in an instant. When I leave the hospital, my mantra is to live every moment and love hard because things can change quickly and I never want regrets. 

I found joy recently in a weekend trip to Prince Edward County and bringing a new puppy into our life.

My favourite read is flipping through magazines. 

My ideal day off is doing pilates, enjoying a latte,  going for brunch and a nice walk on a sunny day. Spending time with my kids, husband and dog is always a good day.

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